#Gothic Classics: The Ghost & Mrs Muir

8 June, 2021 by katelaity

1974 Pocket Books edition of the novel with cover art drawing on the contemporary modern gothic aesthetics: sea coast, house perched on the cliffs, captain arms akimbo behind the lady in era-unspecific clothing: the cap looks vaguely like Rex Harrison, but the missus nothing like Gene Tierney.

Stumbling across this fabulous edition of the novel in Time and Space Limited‘s new(ish) used book store in the basement, I was unable to resist finally reading this classic which I knew first from the 60s television series and then from the 1947 film, made just two years after the book’s original publication. Author Josephine Leslie originally published pseudonymously (apropos!) as R. A. Dick. One can see why that might be less successful a moniker in the 70s, not only the flourishing time of new gothic, but also the burgeoning porn industry, ahem.

Leslie’s Wikipedia entry is a stub: it tells little more than the fact that she published three books with a couple of decades between each one, she was Irish and her father was a sea captain, Robert Abercromby. I will sidestep the obviously rich material for psychoanalysis and say clearly she got her descriptions of the vagaries of the sea-going life with some local expertise.

If like many of my pals you are a fan of the film, you will be delighted to hear that much of what you love is here. Leslie’s style is breezy and fun, slyly comic about her oppressive in-laws, and delighting in the captain’s straightforward bluffness. The things that get changed are mostly to compress the narrative — removing the priggish son determined to have a life in the church as the protege of a Bishop, separating her little romance from the publishing event, though even in reduced form it’s still a role perfect for delectable cad, George Sanders.

But the chief difference is the independence of Lucy Muir. In the film (spoilers!) the experience with the cad turns her into a ‘recluse’ hiding in her house. In the novel she does learn how naïve she is about relationships, but it doesn’t sour her on romance. She loves her independence and a supportive if ethereal lover meets her needs. Midway through the novel:

I wonder if there is something wrong with me, she thought, that I can get so much from so little, because all my joy comes from not doing–not spending summer afternoons in stuffy drawing-rooms listening to women setting their neighbours’ morals to rights over the bridge table, not spending summer evenings listening to men and women setting the world’s affairs to right over five-course dinners, not sewing in circles, nor reading in groups. I must be very selfish, she thought, for I want set nothing and no-one right; all I want is to be left in peace to make what I can of this problem called life for myself and my children. What would the world be like, she wondered, if everyone minded his own business?

I love that. I love her complicated vision of the afterlife, too, which Lucy teases out of the captain over time, and which sidesteps any easy morality for a sense of wonder and responsibility. It would grossly oversimplify her vision to say that we make our own hells but there is an element of that.

Well worth checking out and easily read in a day. Great fun.

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